What It's About
A smoking side hustle helps a new family discover a different path.
Words of Wisdom
Jeff and Nancy learned some valuable lessons. The first was how much food to cook. Jeff quickly learned how to estimate sales volume, as well as make guesses about what dishes would sell more than others.
The second was not to worry so much about what other BBQ caterers were doing. They tried to serve everything you could want, rather than focusing on a few key items, and that led to a lot of food waste (and killed their profit margins). They didn’t need to worry about everyone else. They just needed to do what was best for their business.
The first indigenous tribes Christopher Columbus encountered on the island he named Hispaniola had developed a unique method for cooking meat over an indirect flame, created using green wood to keep the food (and wood) from burning. Reports indicate that the Spanish referred to this new style of cooking as barbacoa: the original barbecue. Read more about the history of BBQ over on The Smithsonian!
Notes from Chris
Jeff Flores, a credit analyst by day, was known among his friends as an all-star BBQ smoker by night. He had several years of experience and had dedicated himself to getting the perfect smoked meat. One day he was telling his wife, Nancy, about how much he loved the craft and science of it and wished he could do it professionally. That’s when a lightbulb went off in her head. Why couldn’t he start catering his smoked meats? It seemed like a much better idea to Nancy than going into professional gambling, which Jeff had also considered. The BBQ craze had made its way from Texas to California, where they lived, but the market wasn’t overly saturated yet with caterers. Many of their friends had casually made comments about them starting a business in the past… maybe this was the dream he could follow? The two talked about the idea for a few weeks in August of 2018. They had two kids and a mortgage. Was it really financially responsible? But Nancy was in, and she encouraged Jeff to get moving. The market was ready, they had some money saved—it just felt right. Work started immediately in September by looking at large catering smokers. They started off by researching Texas builders, where most custom trailer-sized smokers are from, but the prices were high. They ended up finding a few locally with more competitive prices and placed an order. It was risky going in so quickly without tons of research, but they were determined to make it work—and now they had to. By mid-December, Nancy and Jeff had received a business license, food service licenses, insurance, and all the other fun regulatory stuff needed to sell food. And then the smoker arrived. Their new business, The Rustic Que, was almost ready. The holidays were just weeks away, so this gave them the final time they needed to work on their recipes, design a menu, and sign up for the January event that nearly destroyed the whole business. That’s right … it wasn’t an overnight success, and part of the problem was something that happened overnight. The night before their big debut at the Yorba Linda Farmer’s Market, Jeff was up all night smoking his meats. At least, he was supposed to be. At one point he dozed off—exhausted from the stress of the next day’s event—and his coals went out. It’s Rule #1 in smoking meat: never let the coals go cold. When Jeff woke up a short while later, he was mortified. This had never happened to him before. He rushed to check the meat. Thankfully, it was still safe to eat, but he had no idea what was going to happen to its flavor. He just knew it was ruined, and that meant their first event—after all that hard work—wasn’t even worth going to. He nearly called the farmer’s market coordinator to cancel, but Nancy stopped him. They had done too much prep to let their first event go up in smoke. So they tasted the meat once it was fully cooked. It was … okay. Not as stellar as he was used to, but definitely better than he expected. Since January, Jeff and Nancy have worked two to three events per month. Sometimes they participate in farmers markets. Other times they reach out to breweries that are hosting events but don’t have food vendors lined up. Door knocking has worked out well, especially for events that most caterers don’t think of serving at, like Crossfit competitions. They’ve nearly made back their initial investment and are looking into a brick-and-mortar deal that could allow Jeff to go full-time in The Rustic Que. Already, their earnings have allowed them to take a vacation in Cabo that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. And If he did two to three more events each month, he’d replicate the income from his day job. Last but not least, they’ve made lots of friends, and are demonstrating to their kids how rewarding it can be to stick with something you believe in.
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
- The Rustic Que: Learn more about this smoking side hustle over on Jeff and Nancy's website!
- Nacho Average Tacos! Chef Puts Twist on Mexican Culinary Classics: A San Diego chef turns her weekend catering gig into a popular brick and mortar restaurant for visitors on both sides of the border
- Longtime Friends Cook Tasty Food for Pop-Up Events: Two friends in Los Angeles blend their heritage flavors to cook up tasty pop-up dinners centered around the shape of a rectangle
- Longtime Friends Cook Tasty Food for Pop-Up Events: Feeling like the only vegans in Louisiana, two friends start a roving, multi-course dinner series
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